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It Came From the Planet Garage

Times Staff Writer

Move over, Roswell. South Orange County is recording its own share of UFO sightings.

Several residents have reported sightings to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in recent months. And word has even reached a Canadian UFO researcher who has posted information about the incidents on his website.

In one case, witnesses reported seeing glowing disks zigzagging through trees and hovering above the Aliso Viejo Town Center at night. About a yard in diameter and studded with flashing lights, the four UFOs dance around one another in the night sky.

True enough, these flying saucers aren’t a top-secret military project. But they aren’t being piloted by Martians either.

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The saucers are made in the garages of Gaylon Murphy and Steve Zingali, who get their kicks shocking people and hope to earn a few bucks hawking their remote-controlled saucers. After all, a few UFO sightings can only be good for business.

“We fly them in formation. It’s pretty funny,” said Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon and Aliso Viejo resident. “People stop, people scream; one cabdriver ran his car up off the road.”

Nick Peterson was stunned when he saw one of the disks fly past his girlfriend’s upstairs apartment.

“I thought, that can’t be a UFO, can it?” he said. “It’s pretty weird.”

The disks are made of foam and weigh about a pound. Each runs on a 7.4-volt lithium battery and has a propeller.

On weekends, Murphy flies the disks in Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach, Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel.

He and Zingali, a facilities engineer and Mission Viejo resident, have sold four of the gizmos at $1,000 each and concede that their streaking light show is part hobby, part promotion.

“It’s good marketing,” he said.

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The Canadian UFO website, which logs oddities from supposed saucer sightings to alleged alien abductions and offers an assortment of paranormal literature, indicates that the homemade disks have captured the attention -- and the imagination -- of both the skeptical and the true believer.

“I don’t know how to say this exactly but ... ,” one San Clemente resident reported, before going on to detail his UFO sighting outside an Aliso Viejo movie theater in January.

“What I saw today had a brightness that was beautiful to see,” another witness reported. One sky watcher said the object looked like a “glowing Nerf football.”

Not everyone, however, is as enchanted.

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The disks sparked a confrontation between Murphy and Erik Strong, a manager for Opah, an Aliso Viejo restaurant and bar. Strong said Murphy was spooking his staff by hovering his disk near the restaurant.

“It looked like something right out of a movie, a little too real,” Strong said. “I wouldn’t say I made the determination that they were actual UFOs, but it did pique my curiosity enough to see where it was coming from.”

Strong followed the UFOs to nearby Grand Park, where Murphy and Zingali were standing with their remote controls. He told the pair they were going to create hysteria if they continued to fly their disks around Town Center.

Murphy told Strong he should be more concerned about his bar patrons getting rowdy. But the restaurant manager said he hadn’t seen a disk since.

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Murphy confessed that he also had a few encounters with law enforcement.

He attracted some local notoriety in November when one of his saucers got stuck on the roof of the Barnes & Noble store. Murphy asked shop owners if he could climb up to retrieve it, but they resisted because “they thought he was crazy,” according to the sheriff’s deputy’s report.

When the deputy showed up, the store manager allowed Murphy to retrieve his toy, said Lt. Richard Paddock, police services chief for Aliso Viejo.

Paddock said deputies couldn’t do much about complaints.

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“To my knowledge, this man has violated no law while flying this craft in Aliso Viejo,” he said.

Newport Beach Police Sgt. Bill Hartford also said Murphy wasn’t breaking any laws.

Scanning a list of city ordinances, Hartford said:

“You can’t hit golf balls on a public park. You can’t skateboard on a public tennis court. But I don’t see anything specifically that would forbid him from flying his UFOs.”

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Close encounters

A fleet of foam-core saucers began showing up in Aliso Viejo more than a year ago. The lightweight “UFOs” are flown by remote control. A flight-ready model costs about $1,000.

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Composition: 1/4 --inch thick Dow Corning waterproof foam board body, reinforced with carbon fiber rods

Power: 7.4-volt lithium battery, 3800-6800 Himax motor

Weight: 17 to 18 oz.

Speed: Up to 40 mph

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Maneuvers: Can fly inverted, do loops, prop hang (hang vertically), roll (with aileron model)

Source: Steve Zingali


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